By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic crew return to the Bay Area to play marathon sets for their Bay Area fans with three local shows in Petaluma, Berkeley and Santa Cruz.
Though he came after originators James Brown and Sly Stone, George Clinton has undoubtedly earned the title “Godfather of Funk.” Colorful, subversive and groundbreaking, Clinton fused rock and R&B in the ’60s, set the dance floor on fire with funk classics in the ’70s, helped usher in computer-driven new wave and was a cornerstone of hip-hop since the ’80s.
He started in the ’50s as a vocalist in New Jersey soul group the Parliaments, but Clinton soon relocated to Detroit to try to jump aboard the Motown gravy train. Though he did some songwriting work, the iconoclast took cues from acid-rock era giants Jimi Hendrix and Cream (not to mention the influence of Detroit rockers the MC5 and the Stooges) to make Funkadelic one of the first bands to bring together soul grooves, psychedelic guitar and an outrageous stage show. But despite the crew’s outlandish theatrics, Clinton also proved to be an astute sociopolitical commentator, addressing serious subject mater on the seminal albums Maggot Brain and the sprawling double LP America Eats Its Young.
By the mid ’70s, Clinton was leading both Parliament and Funkadelic from underground status to chart success and extravagant arena productions that put the group on the same strata as Earth Wind and Fire. Clinton’s excellent ear for talent also brought some of the best players in the business to his outfits including the late psychedelic guitar giant Eddie Hazel, keyboard scientist Bernie Worrell, and former James Brown sidement like Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. The subversive ringmaster and self-proclaimed Maggot Overlord shepherded his Parliament Funkadelic disciples to create classic hits like “P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” “Flashlight” and “Not Just (Knee Deep),” which would some of the most influential and heavily sampled music of the decade.
Combining humorous, satirical lyrics and space-age concepts with ferocious grooves, Clinton has remained an influential original throughout his career. Even as his solo star waned after early ’80s hits “Atomic Dog” and “Do Fries Go With That Shake?” Clinton’s songs were soon being sampled relentlessly by hip hop’s new guard (Dr. Dre and N.W.A, Digital Underground, De La Soul and Tupac to name just a few).
Though his live performances during the 2000s added loose-limbed improvisational element that took away from the bite of his funk, Clinton has returned to performing and recording with a vengeance since breaking a longtime addiction to crack cocaine. The funk maestro detailed his triumphs and tragedies in the revealing memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? that came out in 2014 to glowing reviews. More importantly, Clinton and his collaborators issued the first new Funkadelic album in over three decades two years later.
A sprawling three-disc release that touches on the classic Funkadelic sound (soaring corrosive guitar solos, tongue-twisting vocals and scatological humor), First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate finds Clinton adding modern elements of hip-hop production and Auto-Tuned vocals to the mix. While Clinton announced earlier this year that he would retire from touring in 2019, he’s continuing with his modern renaissance with his first album under the Parliament banner in 30 years — Medicaid Fraud Dogg — that came out last spring.
The funk icon was also featured prominently in the most recent season of Mike Judge’s animated Cinemax show Tales from the Tour Bus, which spotlit the twisted escapades Clinton and his band got caught up in during the ’70s (the band leader also served as a consulting producer and provided this season’s revamped theme song). Clinton and company play new material and seminal hits when he and Parliament-Funkadelic bring their ongoing farewell tour back to the Bay Area this week. The show lands at the Mystic Theatre Monday before coming to the Cornerstone in Berkeley Tuesday and moving on to the Catalyst Wednesday. 3GP opens all three shows.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic
Monday, Feb. 17, 8 p.m. $75-$79 (sold out)
Tuesday, Feb. 18, 8 p.m. $69 (sold out)
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 8 p.m. $45-$59